Robin2 - Bilston

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Phil, James and MartinIt's been a torrid few months for fans of the Manband. Following the split under what seems, as far as an outsider can tell, to be fairly acrimonious circumstances, an album, Kingdom of Noise was released to a less than rapturous reception. It might be the Manband, but it's not the Manband as many fans know and love it.

With a revised line up, there were a few German dates in the previous month, and this would be their first UK gig. I can't be sure how nervous the band was, but I had a case of the jitters myself.

I'm not sure this was an ideal location for their first appearance on these shores - don't get me wrong, it's an excellent venue, but bigger than some of the pub-type venues they have been accustomed to more recently. But a place like this takes some filling. You can't really fault it for live music, a decent sized proper stage, a few tables down one side and plenty of standing room. I can understand why it's a regular on the itinery of many middling sized bands. On the down side, drinks are served in plastic glasses, though that matches the beer contained therein.

There was a support for the occasion, the Black and Reds, an enthusiastic duo; one played a Les Paul, the othe thrashed the bare bones of a drum kit - bass drum, snare, one floor tomtom, two cymbals... no hi-hat... not even a stool. I feared a novelty outfit, but fair do's, they were very entertaining and produced an impressive noise with their minimalist setup. OK, so the end of their set did get a little surreal as the drummer jumped off stage taking his tomtom with him, and invited members of the crowd (specifically his own fanbase) to join in. Even so, worthwhile.

Still... as I said, quite a big venue, and so it looked rather under populated - "Welcome to another secret Man gig" was Martin's first comment.

But off we went. I've always liked The Price as a song, but never sen it performed live before - it has plenty going for it with a great hook in the chorus, and both this and Mad on Her benefited from being driven along by the keyboards. On Shadow of the Hand, Rene produced a pair of brushes. (His own kit is fairly modest, but at least he has a hi-hat and somewhere to sit). Phil Ryan was really enjoying this one, and put in a good piano solo.

I was trying to pay particular attention to James Beck, since arguably he has the biggest shoes to fill. He took the languid lead line in Speak very well, but suffered slightly when his solo in Russian Roulette was a bit low in the mix - scarcely his fault. On Kingdom of Noise though, it was Josh's guitar which was maybe too high in the mix; it was also curious in this song to see Phil referring anxiously to the notes on a sheet clipped to his keyboard.

JoshMeanwhile, the other new boy, drummer Rene, didn't put a foot wrong - sensibly keeping it simple, he seemed especially effective and comfortable during Popemobile. On Dream Away meanwhile, sung by Phil, James seemed a mite tentative on the slide intro, but his main solo was pretty good. Josh seemed to be keeping his head down (under that cap) for most of the night, but the beautiful warm tone of his visually beautiful Telecaster was a highlight in Steal the World.

Victim of Love might be a track you'd expect Rene to struggle with, but he proved more than capable, possibly thanks to a whipcrack-tight snare sound: very crisp all round.

Manillo contained what might have been James' best solo of the night, while X-Ray Eyes was taken at a hectic pace; while listening to this, it occured to me with some dismay that it's from a fairly recent album - and yet only Martin Ace now remains from the band that recorded it. Ouch.

Of all the songs in the set, probably MACBFGU was going to be the most revealing. It was probably as you might expect, maybe lacking a little oomph from the drums, and kept a lot shorter than we are used to hearing it; still, James made a good stab at putting his own mark on it, with a very wahwah-ed solo.

That was the end of the main set; it's to the band's credit that they came back and gave us three more for the encore, when they cold have easily slipped away with less; still, these three were interesting - Freedom Fries had a modified chorus, very much led by Rene's drums; Romain had overtones of Deke's sound in James' slide Telecaster work, while Josh had his only solo of the night, as such, in this song; and this version of Conflict of Interest, sung by Phil, had more rhythmic swing and syncopation than we've heard from a Manband in some time.

Conclusions? It's probably too soon to draw any. I do think the venue did them no favours being so big: between songs, usually at Man gigs there's plenty of background crowd chatter and a degree of crush and commotion at the bar; here, you could have heard a pin drop... very strange. The band are still feeling their way. Technically, there seem to ne no problems, we'll just have to see how the pieces mesh and fit together with more playing time. They all gave it 100% effort, and at this stage I don't see how we can expect much more. Anyone unsure whether they are worth going to see, I would say yes, certainly - but if you are expecting a series of 20 minute jams rather than a variety of songs, you might be disappointed.

There are a few pics from this gig in the Gallery.

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